Where Have You Been?

Coming out of Night Prayer into the first Great Silence I had entered in over three years, I heard God’s voice clearly say, “Where have you been? I have missed you.” Holy One, I have been busy. Otherwise occupied. Doing church work. Caring for my family. Indulging myself in things of little consequence and listening more to the screaming monkeys in my head than to you. But this is the week I set aside for the One who has waited without judgment.

Some in my circle call it “Monk Camp.” Actually it is the Academy for Spiritual Formation, a deliberate community designed with study, prayer, worship, and silence in each day. It is a rhythm that has blessed my days and grown my faith and increased my love of Christ and the Beloved Community for years. What I had not realized was that in leading the community, then leaving the community, I also left the great silence and deep listening to God behind.

God is patient; God waits even for those of us who are wayward. Oh, I played the music and sang the songs, and even prayed the liturgies. But extended periods of silence were not sought and not lived. I have loved God and served where I could. And I participated in small bits of silence – in lectio divina, in Lenten Listening, and in my little closet of prayer. Still, not a Great Silence.

Where have you been? I have missed you. I have really good excuses, Holy One. Important excuses. So why is my yearning so deep; why is my spirit so dry? So how much silence is enough? My experience this past week is that I don’t exactly know how much is enough, but I do know that what I have been living is not enough.

Tom scattered grass seeds the last time we were here at the river. As we drove in yesterday afternoon, we saw the parched and withered blades thirsting in the heat of the day. The first thing Tom did was to get the sprinkler going on the grass. Water, sweet water to quench that which appeared dead. I think it would be hard to over water the grass at this point; the heat of the day is still great.

This morning there is a little greening happening, both in the grass and in my spirit. At the feet of two great teachers, in a covenant community, and in the Great Silence, greening happens. Where have you been? I have missed you. I may have forgotten, but God did not. Thanks be to God.

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Today is my 73rd birthday, which means that tomorrow I begin my 74th year of life. Holy Cow!!! 74… almost three fourths of a century.  More cow here. Thank you all Facebook friends who have sent well wishes and blessings on my birthday. As I looked at the posts I have remembered you and given thanks for you and all you have meant in my life, and I have prayed blessing on each of you.

I will admit I had a little melancholy going into today. I have thought about family – Mike, Mary Mac, Patricia, Alton Vincent, Ardie, Joe, parents, grandparents who are not at my birthday party. I have thought about parishioners – Barbara’s granddaughter, Paisley, Keith, Gwen, and all the others whom I have loved and lost who are not at my birthday party. And I think of my dear friend whose mother is in that thin place between two worlds and my sweet Mother in Law who at 97 seems to have lost joy in the gift of years that has been given her.

My husband today gave me a wonderful and most unexpected gift, a clergy shirt with a tab collar that he said would help identify me as I march with mothers against gun violence, and Moral Mondays, and the Women’s Marches and the marches to resist hate against the LGBTQI community and to support a woman’s right to choose abortion when it is right over choosing the county coat hangers, and every other march and place of resistance I feel called to.

73. I danced at PLUS last week. There is photographic evidence. (I probably could not run for President or Bishop.) As I left the dance floor, there were two young couples looking at me. I walked over to then and said to them, “Do no fear getting old. Fear losing your joy; fear losing your purpose.”

Last night at supper my son asked me, “So, Mom, what would you say was your best year?” I told him, this one. This year is my best year. OMG what joy is mine tonight! Thank you all for blessing me with your words and your love. God has much for me – and all of us who might feel discouraged –  to do. This will be my best year, until next year and it will be even better. Blessings in the night all. Thank you all for a wonderful day! I love you and God loves you.

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O For a Thousand Tongues

The gulls were back tonight. Singing at the top of their tiny lungs and flying with vigor in circles over my head. I sat in wonder at their stamina and work just surviving in this hostile world, searching for food and sustenance before nightfall.

The moon must be full tonight. Over the river it reflected light in tiny waves headed for shore in a much calmer way than they did last night. Gulls and Moon, you reminded me that it is Holy Saturday. Jesus is in the tomb. His friends are sad and scared. The women are planning an early morning visit to where you are. They want to anoint you… as it you are not already anointed. O Jesus, Saturday is part of the mystery. What is happening in your tomb?

Tonight we had a dinner that was our traditional Easter dinner…. Ham, potato salad, deviled eggs, green beans and strawberry short cake. An ordinary menu for an extraordinary night. Our Carolina Hurricanes were in a playoff game. We had a young guest whom we have known all his life, but who had never had a meal at our house. Nick is a musician. Conversation was smart and lively. Easter blessing came early to us.

When everybody went home, I went to the porch to eat dessert and look at the moon and reflect on the goodness of life, the times of struggle, the times of the tomb and the promise of dawn and Resurrection. This is the first Easter that I have not preached Easter Sunrise in a lot of years. Other than the time when Mary went to the phone, I have done pretty well.

If I had all the tongues of the gulls to sing praise, I would employ every one of them to sing Resurrection… Christ is risen! Life and Light are Christ’s gift to us. It is mystery except that we live it in the joy; it is transcendent except that we live it in real time, in strawberry shortcake and full moons and the love we feel for one another.

Wake up early tomorrow, like Mary. Go to the garden, the Journey Garden or Camp Don Lee, or wherever you go and see for yourself. Feel the cool air and listen for the birds. They know. The Christ who has taught us and healed us and walked with us is not lost to us. Jesus is ours always in the resurrection we claim. Alleluia! Alleluia! Easter Blessings to you all! Amen.

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I Thought I Heard You Say

As I sat on a bench at the end of the pier, a huge flock of seagulls squawked and sang their way up the river. What looked like thousands of birds were loud, a rushing sound that could have been Babel, yet I heard something loud and clear from them that I have reflected on for the past week.

I thought I heard them say…. Or maybe it was God saying – yet it was a statement I heard my grandchildren say when they were little, “Are you picking up what I am putting down?” Seriously. Is this a word from God? That sounds more childish than I think the voice of God sounds, more confusing than even the squawk of the gulls.

The question, if it really came from God, sounds like holy exasperation to me. What a way to get my attention! “Are you picking up what I’m putting down, Lib?” Or is your tongue still lazy and your witness glaringly weak? Where are you proclaiming righteousness and serving the least and calling the greatest to more? Are you silent when you should speak and timid to live the lessons you have been taught and shown by Jesus?

The gulls were con-fabbing where they would find food for the day. Would it be in the river that was underneath them? Would they find it in the newly turned fields just beyond the tree line? Bugs and worms, or fish? At least they were seeking. They were busy making a plan to thrive. I was sitting. Silent.

The prophet hears, Have you not seen? Have you not heard? Three thousand years ago God did not speak in colloquial slang. But the message is the same. Does my witness bear forth what I really know and believe about Christ? Why is God still asking the same question? Where am I, a Christian, “putting down” what I know to be of God: acts of kindness, justice, generosity, mercy, forgiveness, hospitality, and love?

Last night I sat in a sanctuary at a church that truly is a sanctuary and heard John Pavlovitz, a preacher/prophet like John the Baptist crying out in the wilderness. He called out in a progressive voice, stand up and be the people God has called us to be. Now is the time we can’t sit idly by.

In plain sight we see the ills of a broken culture around us. It is not spin to see the pain that policy and rhetoric from pulpits and podiums, preachers and politicians inflict. Distortion of the message of Christ, sowing of division, ramping up of hate and distrust are everywhere, and it starts at the top with a president who gives new meaning to the word “base.”

Where are you, Senators and Congressmen? Where are you preachers and Bishops? Who is picking up what God is putting down? Why is it taking so long for the kingdom of God to come on earth as it is in heaven?

I thought I heard God saying to me: look for new life, find a new voice, speak a new truth. Do not shrink from speaking and writing and acting out. Next week is Holy Week. Jesus comes into Jerusalem on the back of a donkey. What must he have been thinking? Jesus has picked up what God put down; he heard and followed. O God, give me faith to pick it up in my life. And let me not be afraid. Amen.

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Dear Aaron Sorkin – Part 2

The other night we sat in the first row of the mezzanine for your evening presentation of To Kill a Mockingbird. The Shubert is a grand old theatre, in the heart of the theatre district in New York. We sat amazed. You delivered… or shall I say, dropped a culture bomb on all of us who sat there. Mesmerized by the performances, certainly; even more moved in a story line that began in the telling of the human condition by Harper Lee in 1960 at the height of Jim Crow segregation, the rise of the KKK, and the early risings of the Civil Rights Movement stirred by Martin Luther King. I was a teenager when all this was going on.

I must say, the vernacular that was certainly part of the culture from which the story was born in 1960, was uncomfortable. Good on you to make us see this spoken in southern drawl that calls us to reckon with our roots and our lingering failings. The drawl of a segregated south fell hard on our faces and in our ears. My personal recoil at the N-word, was intense. I thought about the actors who were repeating the N-word over and over to show us what it was like and how it felt to the four Black folk who were seated in the “courtroom.” I actually thought about how they all felt even performing. I thank them for their obvious resolve that we should see how all this that happened really was. I grew up in this story; it grieves me.

The pedal pump organ, like the one that was in my home church, played hymns as backdrop. No glitz or shiny. Another point of genius. Against the hymnology of the Christian faith, atrocities were perpetrated against minority persons, African Americans, first and surely, but also against a young woman abused and assaulted by her father, and a young man abused, neglected and discounted by his mother.

This show, dear Aaron Sorkin, is just the kind of message that needs to be spoken over and over again in the world until finally, we hear it, especially as we live in a time when hate is on the rise and white nationalism is being normalized from lips as high as the White House. The fact that you not only lay bare the pain, you also highlight the human pathos of comedy and tragedy mixed together just like we live it everyday. That is genius.

One Sunday during Lent I preached a sermon about the Barren Fig Tree. One of the congregation said she had never heard a sermon about manure before. Spread a little manure on the failing tree, the Gardener says. Give it three years, and if it does not bear fruit, cut it down. Apparently even Divine Patience has its limits. And the Psalmist cries out, “How long?”

I think that is what I heard in your play, dear Aaron Sorkin. Dill and Scout, Jim and Atticus certainly were calling us to consider how much longer racism will continue in our culture. How long will people mistreat and mistrust each other, especially in our differences of color, gender, age, faith, culture, political party, sexual orientation and any other of the dividing lines we stand behind to throw out barbs and spew out hate.

If every person in this country could see To Kill a Mockingbird and feel the shock of how we look in the world, we might awaken to the horror and sadness of it all.  Frankly, the world seems in a very fear-filled regressive place right now. Truth has become subjective and suspicion has become the fodder of choice. Even we Christians have distorted the message of Jesus to love and welcome and become one people.

You, dear Aaron Sorkin have ripped off a scab. I think I thank you; I know I appreciate what you have done in this play. I pray all of us who see it will be changed… even a little bit.

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For Molly and All the Dogs We’ve Loved

This week we were supposed to keep Molly, Rich and Sandi’s Big Brown Chocolate Lab, at our house while her “parents” were out of town. We had planned play dates, and a time at the river, which she loved so much. But our week has not turned out like that. Yesterday, Molly could not move. The tumor pressing on her esophagus and old age caught up with her and her vet was called to help her to heaven.

Death is always hard, and especially hard when we have to make decisions around it. Something about losing a dog is especially hard. They are such constant company, often even more so than our parents, our children, or our spouses. And they certainly love us more unconditionally than most any thing on earth, except God.

As we cried over Molly yesterday, we remembered their names, the dogs of our lives: Red, Shorty, Rebel, Pom Pom, Chester, Scooter, Fred, Booh, Moses, Toasty, Henry, Egg, Gus, June, Freckles, Dale Jr., Lacy, Chancey. Clara and Lucky are still with us. Lucky for us.

Red was a big Irish Setter. He was actually my uncle’s dog, but Uncle Walter could not take him to New York when he went to work up there. So Red stayed with us. Red liked retrieving the New York Times, which was delivered every day at Uncle Walter’s house across the street. Red was struck and killed by a car one morning when he went to pick up the paper.

You have seen his star. Some of you call it Orion’s Belt, the three stars in a little row in the winter sky. Their real names are Inky, Red, and Stripey. Inky was a black cat, Stripey was a gray striped cat, and Red, a beautiful dog with great loyalty to his master, and great joy in performing his task of getting the paper. I was a child; this is how I remember him.

Chelsea was a mixed breed dog who liked to ride in a pick up truck. When she got cancer, her people brought her to the church I was serving. I kept a “We Bless Animals Here” sign on my door where my name could have been. When the time came for Chelsea to be freed from her pain, I met her people at the vet’s office and prayed with them. When her ashes came, and because I knew where the key to the Saint Francis Garden was, we sprinkled her ashes in the garden under the statue of Saint Francis. It just seemed like the right thing to do. There is a small stone there still marking the place. (Don’t tell anyone I told you this.)

I see on Facebook the losses you post of your pets, your sadness and pain in the loss. I touch the screen and pray blessing. My iPad has fingerprints all over it. Pain of losing our companions who have met us at the door with tails wagging, jumping up and down with joy hoping we will walk or play ball, nuzzling the back of our legs to say “welcome home, I am glad to see you” is real and deep. Our dogs are such reflections of the unconditional love of God it’s hard to miss that connection. My daughter asked me yesterday if I believe dogs go to heaven.

I haven’t actually been to heaven yet, but I think that in the end God gathers up all the love of our dogs and all creation and brings it home to where God is. Of all creation, our dogs teach us more about love and forgiveness than we teach each other. That is why they were created. Big wet licky tongues and slurpy kisses are a sign that God is with us and all is well.

We will miss you, sweet Molly girl. You were a precious soul among us. Sweet like your mama, Bailey. All of us are thankful to have shared a little bit of life with you. I hope there are tennis balls up there, and a coastline for you to run and play in the rolling waves. You were pure joy and blessing to us. We’ll catch up with you soon.

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Bask in the Stillness

These words of prayer from Psalm 4 were the foundation of a Lenten Listening session in my church this morning. Interesting to practice stillness and silence in a church sanctuary that sits a hundred yards from one of the busiest streets in Raleigh, Six Forks Road. Slowness, much less stillness will get you killed on Six Forks Road. Rush, hurry, fast and loud are the song of the city. All of us get caught up in it.

We want quick answers. We want strong leaders to guide us. We want, want, want and we want NOW. At least that’s the way we live. What would it mean to the world if we took a step toward stillness and silence and slowness? Lent is a good time to examine our pace, one that might be out of control, one that is possibly stealing the joy of being because of all the doing.

Why is it that too often I feel like if I am still and quiet, I am lazy and leaving something undone? This is where the Protestant work ethic works against me. When I think about the fact that my life could end today, how much do the dirty dishes matter? Who really cares that the trashcans are full? I tend to think my activity and productivity are what makes the world turn and the trains run. How audacious is it to think that it is all on me? Silly me of little faith.

Bask in the stillness. See the wonders of the day. A full moon. Flowers blooming in the first days of spring. Children coming out to play looking for a warm afternoon. This life is such blessing, how can I even enjoy it if I am sprinting through it? Bask in the stillness; sit and give thanks for the moment’s peace.

There is so much unanswered in our world. Sit in the stillness with the questions. There is so much disruption and hurt in our church. Sit in the stillness and pray mercy. There is so much hate and distrust. Sit in the stillness and pray love. God speaks in the stillness. Where am I listening; where are you listening?

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I Married a DJ

Okay, this is less Virtual Church and more real time realization. We are at our house at the river. Today it only sprinkled a little rain before the sun came out. The wind blew hard. Church this morning was blessing. At the Arapahoe UMC we sat on the Linda Row. Even their newest member is named Linda. She found her perfect place on a row that is named for her.

The afternoon was spent doing yard work. Not me. The DJ did the work. I was the encourager. After Happy Time with our neighbors, the DJ cooked chicken wings on the back porch with Pandora playing Beach Music hits. The DJ knew the songs. He knew record labels and in many instances he knew how long the song lasted. On 45 rpm records the time was listed to give the DJ some idea how to program the show.

 I married the DJ, also known as Tom Terrific, in 1965. I was 19; he was 20. For the years we lived in Greenville, I was known as Mrs. Terrific. It was swell to be Mrs. Terrific.

The DJ and his buddies were experts in knowing the hits. Tom, Don, and Jim grew up with them. Once at M and M’s Tom and Jim almost won the name that tune game. They were gold. They could name all the songs with just the few opening notes, every song.… until  the hits of 1985 were played. They were out of the game. They had not kept up with the song.

When we attended Don’s wife’s funeral this week, we thought about all the blessings of love and long relationships and the ways we are bound together, even if we don’t see each other, even if we are mad and disappointed with each other, at the end of the day we realize that to share life and laughter and love is the best gift God offers us. Money, success and fame do not come close.

We live in a time when quarrels threaten to divide us – in the church and in our country, when our own pride or fear of whatever it is that our egos drag us into threaten to destroy us. All the while time passes, daylight or standard, we try to fool ourselves; still it goes quickly. However it goes, it is held by God. We are merely passers by. But we have known each other in this precious meantime.

Quarrels within, quarrels without have little meaning when the DJ and his bride hear My Girl, or Sittin’ On the Dock of the Bay and remember the gift of love we share after 53 years. A little dancing on the back porch with the smell of chicken wings grilling. This life is so good, and the circle is tightening. Every person on the planet has a right to love who they love and to live in covenant relationship that lasts a lifetime. I want that for everybody.

My church has voted to deny that to some people. It is an odd vote to me, one who has essentially lived a very traditional plan. One man, one woman. Celibacy in singleness, fidelity in marriage. Monogamy and faithfulness were part of the commitment and covenant we made to each other a long time ago.

Divorce statistics and personal stories tell me that there is particular violation of parts of the Discipline’s statements surrounding Human Sexuality. What happened to the statements of fidelity and marriage? Are we living those statements now? How many among us have lived one man, one woman… at a time? Or one woman and one man… at a time? How many among us have had extra marital affairs? I am stunned in the hypocrisy of it all. How can we justify our decision? The Discipline? The Bible? What is the real justification?

Can you hear a new song? New music is playing all around us. 1-2-3, 1-2-3. Back step. Let’s not take that back step. Instead let us celebrate the love that is growing among us, join the General Dance and love one another as God has loved us. Tell Me. Do ya, do ya, do ya, do ya wanna to dance?

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Cleanup on Aisle Three

As the Lenten Season begins, I give thanks for several things. First, I give thanks that God is out of the smiting business. Second, I give thanks that I know the end of this story. (Spoiler Alert: The end of the story is Resurrection.)

For all the people who talk about the Old Testament God who smites wrongdoing and wrongdoers, who turns people to salt, and feeds them to whales and banishes them from the garden, let a collective “whew, that was close” ring out. Our story does not end there. Even though there are some among us who have taken upon themselves the role of the smiter and banisher, essentially assuming the role of the angry God who burns witches and crucifies the righteous; they are not the end of the story either.

A colleague poured out his heart in a letter to his church. In his first draft he used the word “punitive” in describing the actions passed by the recent General Conference. I encouraged him to drop the punitive language. I was wrong. Punitive is just the right word to describe what happened. In fact, everything that happened felt punishing. You have heard it said, “Sticks and stones may break your bones, but words will never hurt you.” Today, I say to you, “That is entirely wrong; words are our greatest instrument of harm.”

Now it appears that the church is in clean up mode, working to find language that mitigates the harm done, working to keep the ship upright until the tides turn. Damage control takes energy and thoughtfulness. Sad that our time will be spent in something that should not have happened in the first place. Clean up is something we do with untrained puppies. Clean up is what they do at Walmart when a bottle breaks on aisle three. There is broken glass, and wine is spilling out over all the floor like blood.

We will be known for our deeds. We will be known in our words, our actions and our countenances. In the Lenten Season we are invited to the Great Examen. Where have I failed and fallen short of the glory of God? Where have I failed to love my neighbor as myself? Where have I been the one who denied grace to another human being? Only when I clean up my own life will I be able to clean up someone else’s.

For all the years I lived at home, I shared a bedroom with my sister. We had twin beds, a dresser apiece, and about half of the area of the room. One of us was messy. The other was neat. (She was the neat one… Confession 101). Often we drew an imaginary line between our beds to mark our hypothetical turf. We would avoid each other, shame each other, mock each other, but at the end of the day the imaginary wall between us would go away. When we realized that our spat was actually over fairly temporary and silly things, and that we had underlying deep love for one another, we could lay it down, and lie down in our little beds under the same ceiling.

Real clean up involves confession and repentance and forgiveness. Reformation and transformation are hard work. But that’s the business God is in; it’s called grace. Let us not be afraid. God is with us. Thank God for God!

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Living the Bible or The Living Bible?

In 2008, a young writer, an officially, though non-practicing Jew struck out to live the Bible. Literally. Every rule and admonition. Old and New Testaments. A.J. Jacob’s book, The Year of Living Biblically, is an honest and humorous telling of his experience of living the Bible in the context of a 21st century world. While I laughed out loud at some of it, I most appreciated some of his closing thoughts reflecting on his year of living the Bible in conversations he had with his rabbi friend. The conversation is found on pages 328 and 329. Rabbi Robbie says:

            “We can’t insist that the Bible marks the end of our relationship with God. Who are we to say that the Bible contained all the wisdom? If you insisted that God revealed himself only at one time, at one particular place, using these discrete words, and never at any time other than that – that in itself is a kind of idolatry.”

Jacobs says, “You can commit idolatry on the Bible itself. You can start to worship the words instead of the spirit.”  How do we meet God in the middle? How do we hear the words in the spirit of their meaning without hurting each other and harming the church?

The spirit of the words is different than the letter of the law. Faithful discernment includes measuring the words alongside what we know is the nature of God. What we know about God is also Biblical: God is good. God is love. God is a covenant maker. God keeps promises. God does not leave us alone, but shelters us in the storms. God’s Living Word calls us over and over into right relationship – with God and with one another and all creation. How then can we justify the rancor and discord we are living today across the spectrum of culture and church?

God’s word is dynamic, never static, but always blowing through us and all creation the breath of life that is love and mercy, justice and grace. This is the spirit of the living word; this is the nature of God that is revealed in Jesus the Christ. Count me as one who hopes to hear a word of life from the Bible and from the trees and flowers that praise God from my back yard this morning. Let us see with new eyes and open hearts how we are called to sing a new song. We who believe that the living word is a loving word will rise up to tell good news that is for everyone born!

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